Several Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation are warning Gov. Ron DeSantis against reopening the state before having sufficient control over the novel coronavirus.
“While we fully recognize the tremendous burden placed on the economy by stay-at-home orders and closed businesses, we urge you to prioritize the health and safety of Floridians above all else,” the 10 members wrote.
“A rushed reopening may very well serve only to increase the human loss caused by an already historic public health crisis, as states moving forward with reopening are seeing increases in new COVID-19 cases.”
The letter was signed by Reps. Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
Those members warn that Florida’s confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to rise. But the rate of increase has slowed, as have the percentage of positive tests.
Democrats also warn that it’s still unclear whether the state has sufficient testing capacity which health experts caution is necessary to safely reopen.
“Florida is lacking essential tools that public health experts agree are critical to a safe reopening process: widespread testing, a robust contact tracing workforce, and supported isolation are interconnected pieces of the larger puzzle of reopening,” the members warned.
“Without all pieces in place, it is unacceptable to reopen the state and expose our population to increased risk of infection.”
The state has stepped up its efforts to increase testing. On Wednesday, the Governor announced the availability of antibody testing at sites in Miami-Dade County, Orange County and Jacksonville. The state is also backing mobile testing efforts aimed at nursing home facilities.
The Representatives did praise DeSantis’ decision to leave South Florida’s tri-county area out of the state’s Phase One reopening plan. But they questioned DeSantis’ broader approach during the outbreak, which largely left major decisions to local governments with some exceptions.
“You have, since the rise of this crisis, resisted the implementation of science-based and data-driven mitigation strategies and withheld valuable data from the public,” the letter continues.
“Florida is not an experiment and its residents are not case studies.”
The Governor has taken small steps to reopen the state by keeping many businesses closed where social distancing may be difficult. Other businesses, such as restaurants, must operate at 25% capacity.
The state and the nation are wrestling with how best to balance the health risks of the virus with the devastating economic impact of the widespread stay-at-home orders.
Those orders were largely installed to ensure hospitals were not overwhelmed at the start of the outbreak. With that goal met here in Florida — hospital capacity peaked at 60% to 70% in some of the hardest hit areas — the Governor has moved to allow some parts of the economy to come back online, albeit slowly.
Still, Democrats have been largely critical of the approach, warning the state could be hit with a second wave if proper protocols aren’t followed. The letter from the Democratic delegation asked the Governor to issue statements expounding on the state’s plan, including an update on personal protective equipment availability, guidance being issued regarding beaches and parks, and several other issues.
“We all want to reopen our economy and society as soon as possible, but we have to get this right,” Deutch added in a separate statement.
“We need a comprehensive strategy before moving forward. Unless we develop the public health tools and strategies to keep Floridians safe, the threat of COVID-19 could set our economy back even further.”